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Diversity - gender, age and ethnicity

A common description of a judicial office-holder is "pale and male" - a white man, probably educated at public school and Oxbridge.

In some branches of the judiciary, this description certainly fits many. However, there are reasons for this, and efforts being made to achieve greater diversity in the judiciary of the future.

There are also branches of the judiciary which are far more diverse.

‘Pale and male’ - the courts judiciary?

The courts judiciary - the Court of Appeal, the High Court and to some extent the Circuit Bench and district bench - are largely male.

Just eight per cent of Court of Appeal judges are women, rising to 23 per cent of district judges.

Ethnicity figures range from two to four per cent, compared to around eight per cent in the population as a whole.

Why?

The judiciary of today reflects the type of person qualifying as a solicitor or barrister ten or perhaps 20 years ago, because both types of lawyer must gain a certain level of experience before applying to join the judiciary.

But the picture is changing, as Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, explained at a judicial diversity conference in 2009:

“When I was studying to become a barrister, the vast majority of those around me were white men. There were a very few, brave women, breaking into what was then an overwhelmingly male profession. There were tiny tiny numbers of candidates from ethnic minorities.

“Today the students at Bar school are equally divided between men and women and there are substantial numbers of men and women from ethnic minorities, all seeking in competition with one another to make their ways in the professions. The solicitors’ profession now is much the same, just as the profile of those becoming solicitors at the time when I was starting at the Bar was very similar.”

This was encouraging, he added - but it wasn’t enough simply to wait and see: “We must do everything we can to achieve wider judicial diversity. We must make sure that the pool of eligible candidates for consideration for judicial appointment is as wide as it can possibly be, and that all eligible candidates at least consider whether to seek a judicial career.”

What is being done?

The Diversity and Community Relations Judges (DCRJs) create and maintain links with local communities and schools to increase knowledge of, and trust in, the justice system, as well as encouraging young people to consider a legal and judicial career.

Many other judges also carry out outreach work in their local communities and schools.

There is a Judicial Work-Shadowing Scheme (JWSS) which gives applicants a chance to spend time with judges of all levels, to see if a judicial career appeals to them.

Judges also work with the Bar Council and Law Society (which represent barristers and solicitors) and individual law firms, to find ways of encouraging more solicitors to consider judicial appointment.

Increasingly, judges are also able to take up flexible working, ranging from part-time to job-sharing - making judicial appointment more attractive and accessible for working parents, for example.

Plans for the future

The independent Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity, chaired by Baroness Neuberger, was commissioned by the government to make recommendations on how to increase judicial diversity.

The panel - which included senior members of the judiciary - reported in February 2010, making 53 recommendations.

These included:

1. A “fundamental shift of approach” the concept of a judicial career, which could span roles in the courts and tribunals as one unified judiciary.

5. There should not be diversity quotas or specific targets for judicial appointments.

9. Judges and members of the legal profession should engage with schools and colleges to ensure that students from under-represented groups understand that a judicial career is open to them.

17. Law firms should regard part-time judicial service as positive for their practices and should encourage part-time service.

36. There should be a staged period of induction where the appointed person has little or no experience of sitting judicially or of the relevant jurisdiction.

51. It should be assumed that all posts are capable of being delivered through some form of flexible working arrangement, with exceptions needing to be justified.

The magistracy

The 28,000 magistrates of England and Wales are far more representative of the population they serve.

There are slightly more women (50.6 per cent) than men, and just under eight per cent of magistrates identify themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority - almost exactly the proportion found in the population as a whole.

This is understandable, given that magistrates are volunteers and do not need to achieve legal qualifications or a particular career level.

Tribunals

Provisional figures from the judicial database show that, at December 2009, there were 5,133 judicial office-holders (ie judges and non-legal members) in tribunals, of which 37 per cent were female and slightly over ten per cent from black and minority ethnic groups.

 

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